Mister D: Paula Abdul, Wayne Newton, and Marc Shaiman were also in attendance…..
January 31, 2010 Â· 11:39 PM
The Showgirl moves on: Bette Midlerâ€™s exultant Vegas finale
By Joe Brown
As Bette Midler folded up her feathered fansâ€”after singing the first verse of â€œWind Beneath My Wingsâ€ to her orchestra, the next to â€œ4,500 of my closest friendsâ€â€”it felt like something more than a Vegas show was ending.
Midler began her two-year run as a headliner at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in February of 2008â€”just as the toughest two years this town has seen were dawning. And as she leaves Las Vegas, it seems like a moment of star magnitude, of showbiz spectacle, of Destination Entertainment, is going with her.
â€œI survived!â€ Midler crowed, beaming as she made her Big Entrance atop a tower of Louis Vuitton luggage on Sunday night. She not only survived but thrived: At 64, she somehow looks and sounds even better than she did when she got here. (Must be that desert air.) And the show ended on a high note–Iâ€™ve seen The Showgirl Must Go On four times since it opened, and Midler and her crew continually revised, streamlined and improved it right up to Sundayâ€™s last bow. Filled with exultant filled with exultant emotion and off-the-script surprisesâ€”including drop-bys from Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, Marie Osmond, Gladys Knight and Celine Dion (via ginormous video)â€”her victory lap was probably unbeatable.
The unmistakable Bruce Vilanch was in the will-call line ahead of meâ€”heâ€™s recognizable anywhere, but in a Bette Midler ticket line, he is pretty much an A-list, and was politely signing programs and posing for pictures. Vilanch, who has written jokes for Midler for years, said he and her other writers were going to shout wisecracks at her throughout the night, and noted that he wouldnâ€™t be at all surprised if she re-upped in Vegas in the foreseeable future, perhaps at a smaller venue, where she could be as spontaneous as she was on her finale. (Vilanch also added that he recently sat with Paula Abdul on a plane, and that she had been in negotiations about popping into Peepshow. We’ll see.)
On the final night of a show, all bets are off, and anything goesâ€”everyone, especially the starâ€”ready to let loose. Midler seemed energized and emotional, her hair now a blonde puff of curls that matched that of her bandleader and keyboard player Bette Sussman. She acknowledged the strange and pulverizing timesâ€ of the past couple of years. She made â€œTwatterâ€ jokes. She sang â€œThe Rose,â€ warning the audience that the we could sing along, â€œin the sweetest kumbaya moment: the Jews, the Christians, the gaysâ€â€”but only after the first verse, which was reserved for her alone. She sang â€œFriends,â€ a welcome favorite from her 1972 debut album.
â€œLast December, I was invited to sing for the Queen of England,â€ Midler said. â€œI felt very well prepared, because Iâ€™ve been singing for queens all my life. The Queen likes the Beatlesâ€”who knew?â€ Midler said, and in place of John Prineâ€™s poignant ballad â€œHello In There,â€ she introduced ukemaster Shimabukuro, who accompanied her on a lovely â€œIn My Life,â€ then conquered the Colosseum with a solo â€œWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps.â€
After a saltier-than-usual string of dirty jokes told by Midler in the character of ancient showgirl Soph, Marie Osmond crossed the street after her show at the Flamingo and shared â€œthe Mormon F-wordâ€: â€œFifty.â€
Midler famously played out Johnny Carson, singing â€œOne For My Baby (and One More For the Road)â€ on the Tonight Show. And on Sunday she had her own tearful Carson moment, when Gladys Knight came out at the 11th hour to serenade her with â€œThe Way We Were.â€
After more than two hours, Midler graciously thanked the Colosseumâ€™s cast and crew and brought them all onstageâ€”the Colosseumâ€™s ushers gave Midler a â€œperfect attendanceâ€ award. She faked out the audience by encoring with â€œMy Heart Will Go Onâ€ â€”interrupted by a video tribute from Celine Dionâ€”before singing, inevitably, about wind and wings and unsung heroes.
Midlerâ€™s arrival in Las Vegas felt personally significant to me. I was a 14-year-old gay kid in the pre-Internet suburbs when I first heard the siren call of Midlerâ€™s sighing, whispering, knowing, campy, retro-celebrating â€œDo You Want To Dance?â€ on the AM radio, and somehow I knew I was a member of a secret club. When I was agonizing about whether to take a job writing about entertainment in Las Vegas, of all places, the news that Midler was coming helped make my decision easier. Her show was the first big review I wrote for my new newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun.
I, for one, will miss her. And I canâ€™t help but wonder whatâ€™s next: for Midler, for me, for Las Vegas.